In further blow to journalists, beaten Russian reporter gets slander conviction
Russian reporter Mikhail Beketov, who lost a leg and three fingers to unidentified assailants in 2008, suffered one of many attacks connected to a controversial development project in Khimki Forest.
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Mr. Beketov, who lost a leg and three fingers in the attack, was ordered to pay 5,000 roubles (about $160) in damages for slandering Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko, the very official whom he had publicly accused of corruption and plotting violence against him.
Russia's journalistic community reacted with shock and outrage. Many are describing it as a through-the-looking-glass moment that defines the true nature of their country's justice system. Russian law enforcement has failed to solve any of the 19 murders and scores of beatings of journalists in recent years, but can unerringly obtain satisfaction for an official who feels his reputation has been tarnished by a reporter's work.
"That's the formula for how the whole country functions," says Alexei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, an independent media watchdog that compiles reports on abuses against journalists. "The honor of an official is priced much higher than the life of a journalist. And everything, from top to bottom, works like that."
Many attacks connected to Khimki Forest
Beketov's conviction in a Khimki court comes just days after another journalist who had offended Mr. Strelchenko, Kommersant reporter Oleg Kashin, was beaten in an almost identical manner outside his downtown Moscow home. Mr. Kashin remains in critical condition in a Moscow hospital.
Both Kashin and Beketov had covered the controversy over plans, sponsored at the highest level of Russian government, to build a toll road through Khimki Forest, an old-growth green belt on the edge of Moscow.
A small band of local environmentalists, Defenders of the Khimki Forest, have suffered repeated arrests and many of their members have been attacked and beaten by unidentified thugs over the past three years. Just last week one of the group's strongest local supporters, activist Konstantin Fetisov, was badly injured by several unknown assailants on a Khimki street. He remains hospitalized.
The journalists who cover them have fared no better. Beketov was assaulted two years ago. In March 2009, Sergei Protazanov, designer of another local newspaper, Grazhdanskoye Soglasiye, died after being attacked in Khimki. Just last Sunday, Anatoly Adamchuk, a reporter for the suburban newspaper Zhukovskiye Vesti, reported being attacked near his home in the Moscow-region town of Zhukovsky. Mr. Adamchuk had been covering protests against a planned freeway through the nearby Tsagovsky Forest for his paper.